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What to Watch on Holiday TV

Treats from tasty performers to cheesy Christmas flicks

Lori Loughlin, Jack Wagner

Eike Schroter/Hallmark Channel

Lori Loughlin, left, and Jack Wagner, center, star in When Calls the Heart, the Christmas night feature on Hallmark Channel's Countdown to Christmas.

Hallmark Channel Countdown to Christmas 

(Hallmark Channel, all month, check listings)

Hallmark Channel’s annual cavalcade of Christmas movies pulls in huge viewing numbers and is now a holiday-season staple on par with mistletoe and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas.” This year’s onslaught began back in late October and features 22 original movies, with a new one debuting nearly every weekend night through the end of December. Don’t expect any to stray from the wildly popular, social-media catnip formula: unabashedly cheesy rom-coms with endings tied up in neat holiday bows. Grownup viewers should keep an eye out for the Christmas night debut of When Calls the Heart, starring Full House alum Lori Loughlin, 55, and General Hospital’s Jack Wagner, 70. 

Into The Dark

Richard Foreman/Hulu

In the Christmas monster movie Pooka!, a struggling actor gets a holiday season job as a Christmas character in a plush suit to promote the hottest toy of the year.

Into the Dark: Pooka!

(Hulu, Friday, Dec. 7, then streaming anytime)

Hulu’s Into the Dark is a monthly anthology horror series that bases each new installment on a proximate holiday. Naturally, the December episode, called Pooka!, riffs on Christmas and the holiday season in general. Not so naturally, it’s about a struggling actor (Nyasha Hatendi) who gets a job wearing a bug-eyed bunny suit to promote a new children's toy. The toy proves popular with kids, but the suit might be driving him insane. So — ho, ho, ho?

 

Sylvia Weinstock, Nicole Byer, Jacques Torres

Greg Gayne/Netflix

From left, Sylvia Weinstock, Nicole Byer and Jacques Torres are the Nailed It! judges, while stagehand Wes Bahr frequently takes part in the holiday proceedings too.

Nailed It! Holiday Special

(Netflix, Friday, Dec. 7, then streaming anytime)

The twist in this baking competition is that, unlike The Great British Bake Off or its brethren, the contestants are, by and large, fairly terrible at baking. But watching them attempt to duplicate complicated festive recipes for a panel of judges — including comic Nicole Byer; pastry chef Jacques Torres, 59; and “Queen of Cakes” Sylvia Weinstock, 88 — makes for an hilarious holiday diversion and the perfect accompaniment to a marathon gift-wrapping session.

Tiya Sircar, Diane Ladd

Courtesy of Lifetime

Tyra Sircar, left, and Diane Ladd, right, play a woman and her grandmother bonding during the holiday season in Christmas Lost and Found.

It's a Wonderful Lifetime

(Lifetime, all month, check listings)

Lifetime has taken a page from the Hallmark Channel playbook, packing its December schedule with 14 original holiday films airing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night right up through Christmas. The Lifetime lineup skews a bit more toward grownup audiences, with movies featuring the likes of Diane Ladd (pictured, from Christmas Lost and Found, which debuts Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. ET), Jane Alexander, Michael Gross and Melissa Gilbert. Check mylifetime.com for full listings.

Reba McEntire

ABC/Mark Levine

Reba McEntire returns to host the annual CMA Country Christmas.

CMA Country Christmas

(ABC, Monday, Dec. 10, at 8 p.m. ET)

Reba McEntire, 63, hosts a night of Christmas music by some of the biggest stars in country, including Dan + Shay, Brad Paisley, Amy Grant, Martina McBride and Old Dominion. Also scheduled to appear are Tony Bennett, 92, and Diana Krall, 54, recent collaborators on an album of duets.

Ellen DeGeneres

Mike Rozman/NBC

Ellen DeGeneres presides over the holiday shenanigans on a festive edition of Ellen's Game of Games on NBC.

Ellen’s Game of Games Holiday Spectacular

(NBC, Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 8 p.m. ET)

The affable comic and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, 60, returns with a holiday-themed version of her game show hit from last winter. DeGeneres presides over the silly proceedings, which feature ridiculous games and trap doors that swallow up eliminated contestants. For more Ellen this holiday season, there’s also Relatable, her first stand-up TV special in 15 years. It makes its Netflix premiere on Dec. 18, and then will be available for streaming anytime.

Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, Alec Baldwin on

Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

From left, Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon and Alec Baldwin in a classic Saturday Night Live holiday skit.

SNL: Best of Christmas

(NBC, Thursday, Dec. 13, at 9 p.m. ET)

The venerable comedy show has more than 40 years of Christmas episodes from which to cull this best-of special. So better watch out for John Malkovich’s subversive, scary fireside reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Adam Sandler's annual warbling of “The Hanukkah Song." And what’s an SNL episode these days without Alec Baldwin? Long before he donned the orange wig and pursed his lips to lampoon Donald Trump, he scored in a legendary Christmas skit as NPR holiday guest Pete Schwetty, hawking his, ahem, distinctive yuletide confections.

Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke

Calvada Productions

Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke in a classic episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show that returns on Dec. 14 in a newly colorized version.

The Dick Van Dyke Show — Now in Living Color!

(CBS, Friday, Dec. 14, at 9 p.m. ET)

Dick Van Dyke Show creator Carl Reiner, 96, handpicked two classic episodes — 1961’s “Where Did I Come From?” and 1965’s “Never Bathe on a Saturday” — for colorization and remastering, which the network will air for the first time ever. CBS has had success airing colorized versions of its classic sitcoms during the holidays: a pair of holiday-themed I Love Lucy episodes will air just before these new episodes at 8 p.m. It’s a big season for Van Dyke, who will be 93 on Dec. 13 and is also back on the big screen in Mary Poppins Returns.

Bruce Springsteen

Kevin Mazur/Netflix

Bruce Springsteen performs in his one-man show Springsteen on Broadway.

Springsteen on Broadway

(Netflix, Sunday, Dec. 16, then streaming anytime)

Bruce Springsteen’s one-man show wraps up a 14-month sold-out run on the Great White Way on Dec. 15. The next day, it makes its Netflix debut. Despite its holiday season premiere, don't expect to hear “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” A mix of music from The Boss’s five-decade catalog and stories from his 2016 memoir Born to Run, introduced via stirring, quiet monologues, this is not your typical blow-it-out Springsteen arena show. It’s much, much more.

London, illuminated for the holidays

Jamie Davies/BritBox

Luminous London, a slow-TV tour through the city illuminated for the holidays, is among the highlights of the BritBox streaming app's 12 Joys of Britmas.

The 12 Joys of Britmas

(BritBox, streaming anytime, subscription required)

Across the pond, holiday entertainment is an art form, with specials galore and just about every popular show devoting a year-end episode to the occasion. The BritBox streaming service aims to give Yanks a taste via a loaded month of holiday programming. Among the highlights: Mary Berry’s Absolute Favorites; Click & Collect (a new holiday flick from Office cocreator Stephen Merchant); Carols from Kings; Luminous London — a TV tour of the city’s Christmas displays; even the annual Christmas message from Queen Elizabeth, broadcast live. The service costs $6.99 a month, but new viewers can test it out with a free seven-day trial.

The 41st Annual Kennedy Center Honors

John P. Filo/CBS Broadcasting

This year's Kennedy Center Honorees include, from bottom left, Wayne Shorter, Cher, Reba McEntire and Philip Glass. The creators of Hamilton, pictured in the top row, are also being honored.

The Kennedy Center Honors

(CBS, Wednesday, Dec. 26, at 8 p.m. ET)

This year’s honorees — Reba McEntire, Cher, Philip Glass, jazz great Wayne Shorter and the creators of the musical Hamilton — are feted via tributes both spoken and sung. Gloria Estefan will host, with Paul Simon, Cyndi Lauper, Herbie Hancock and Kristin Chenoweth among those expected to pay respects to the legendary performers.

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